THE GREAT AMERICAN READ: THE BRONX

When the Bronx literary scene found itself in a bookstore desert, one Bronxite stepped up to the plate by establishing “The Lit Bar.” Tonight we’ll take you inside.

For more information about The Great American Read click here.

Aired on September 18, 2018. 

TRANSCRIPT

AS ONE BOOK CLOSES, ANOTHER OPENS.

WHEN BRONX NATIVE NOELLE SANTOS SAW THE LAST BARNES & NOBLE IN HER NEIGHBORHOOD CLOSE ITS DOORS, SHE SET OUT TO BRING READING BACK TO HER HOME BUREAU.

SHE DECIDED TO OPEN AN INDEPENDENT BOOK STORE IN THE SOUTH BRONX.

A LOVER OF LITERATURE AND COMMUNITY.

SHE MERGED THE TWO AND LAID PLANS TO LAUNCH THE LIT BAR.

THE FIRST OF ITS KIND WINE AND LITERATURE BAR.

WELCOME TO METRO FOCUS.

TELL US THE ORIGIN STORY OF THIS BOOK STORE.

2014 I WAS ON FACEBOOK, WASTING MY LIFE AWAY, I CAME ACROSS A PETITION THAT SAID THE ONLY BOOK STORE IN THE BRONX WAS IN JEOPARDY OF CLOSING DOWN.

I WAS ASHAMED OF MYSELF FOR NOT KNOWING THAT, AND I DECIDED TO STOP SIGNING PETITIONS, AND DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT, STOP WAITING FOR THE ADULTS IN THE ROOM TO GET MORE PASSIONATE ABOUT INTELLECTUAL VISIBILITY IN THE BRONX.

YOU FIRST STARTED BY JOINING A COMPETITION THAT THE CITY WAS HOLDING FOR A SMALL BUSINESS PLAN, RIGHT?

IT WAS A COLLABORATION BETWEEN THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY.

THEY GUIDE YOU THROUGH THE PROCESS OF WRITING A BUSINESS PLAN, I CAME IN SECOND PLACE OUT OF 360 NEW YORK CITY START-UPS AND I TOOK THAT LITTLE BIT OF BUZZ AND MADE A LITTLE MAKESHIFT WEB SIDE AND STARTED SELF-PROMOTING ON SOCIAL MEDIA.

WHEN THE BOOK STORE OPENS, WHAT IS IT THAT PEOPLE CAN EXPECT?

THIS ISN'T A TRADITIONAL BOOK STORE, LIKE YOU SAID, IT'S GOING TO BE A WINE BAR, BUT THERE'S A FOCUS AT LEAST, OR AN EMPHASIS ON THE COMMUNITY THAT IT'S IN?

I LIVE IN THE SOUTH BRONX WHERE WE'RE MOSTLY AN AFRICAN-AMERICAN POPULATION.

WE'RE EXTREMELY DIVERSE, AND I WANT THAT TO REPRESENT IN MY EVENTS.

IN MY HIRING PRACTICES.

I WANT TO LET THE COMMUNITIES KNOW THIS IS FOR US, BY US, AND THIS IS OUR COMMUNITY SPACE TO MAKE THIS SPACE WHATEVER WE WANT.

WHEN YOU SAY COMMUNITY SPACE, I AM GUESSING THAT'S GOING TO MEAN BOOK RELEASING EVENTS, ET CETERA.

WHAT'S GOING TO BE HAPPENING AT THE LIT BAR.

WHATEVER YOU FIND AT A TRADITIONAL BOOK STORE, THE READINGS, THE LAUNCH PARTIES.

THE TRADITIONAL BOOK STORE EVENTS.

THAT'S WHAT YOU'RE GOING TO FIND AT THE LIT BAR.

BECAUSE WE'RE A WINE BAR CAFE, WE CAN SWITCH THAT UP AND WE CAN HAVE NONTRADITIONAL EVENTS.

I'VE HAD SOME PEOPLE APPROACH ME ABOUT DOING YOGA CLASSES IN THE STORE.

WE CAN TIE ALL OF THAT INTO A BOOK.

AND THAT'S SOMETHING I WANT TO SEE YOUNG PEOPLE RECOGNIZE THAT LITERATURE AND READING IS NOT NECESSARILY -- IT'S NOT CORPORAL PUNISHMENT, IT'S NOT -- YOU KNOW, WHILE YOU ARE EXERCISING YOUR MIND, READING IS A FORM OF ENTERTAINMENT, AND YOU CAN TIE IT INTO THESE OTHER INTERESTS THAT ATTRACT YOU, AND YOU CAN EXPAND YOUR HORIZONS IN BOOKS.

HOW WAS IT THAT YOU FOUND YOUR LOVE OF READING BEFORE YOU GOT TO THIS POINT OF BECOMING A SMALL BUSINESS OWNER?

MY LOVE OF READING STARTS FROM MY MOM, I WAS PRIVILEGED IN THAT WAY, THAT MY PARENTS WERE BOTH READERS.

MY BROTHER INTRODUCED A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN TO ME.

I FELL IN LOVE WITH THE CHARACTER.

YOU COULD NOT TELL ME I WASN'T FRANCY IN BROOKLYN IN THE 1920s, THAT WAS MY FIRST TIME SEEING MY SEARCH IN ANOTHER CHARACTER, SOMEONE WHO WAS UNLIKE ME.

AFTER THAT MOMENT, I STARTED APPROACHING THESE BIG FAT TEXTS WITH WONDER AND EXCITEMENT, AND THEN MY PARENTS STARTED TAKING AWAY MY BOOKS AS A FORM OF PUNISHMENT.

IT WENT THE OTHER WAY ABOUT.

SOME MAY SAY, BOOK STORE, MAYBE ONE IN THE BRONX, BUT THERE'S NOT A MARKET FOR THAT.

IS IT REALLY WORTH INVESTING?

ABSOLUTELY.

WE ARE AN EDUCATED POPULATION, WE HAVE TONS OF ART AND TALENT, BUT THEY ARE ALL UNDERGROUND.

I HAVEN'T SEEN THE INVESTMENT LIKE OUR NEIGHBORI ING BOROUGHS HAPPEN IN THE BRONX.

THAT'S NOT JUST LITERATURE, THAT'S OUR ARTS, OUR EDUCATION THAT IS -- WE'RE NOT JUST A BOOK DESERT, WE'RE A FOOD DESERT, THERE ARE SO MANY THINGS THAT NEED TO BE ADDRESSED, THIS WAS THE THING THAT STOPPED ME IN MY TRACKS FROM LEAVING THE BRONX, TAKING MY EDUCATION AND MY RESOURCES OUTSIDE OF MY COMMUNITY.

ME BEING A READER AND READING BEING SO INSTRUMENTAL IN MY DEVELOPMENT, THAT'S WHAT STOPPED ME IN MY TRACKS TO STAY HERE AND DO SOMETHING FOR MY COMMUNITY.

I THOUGHT IT WAS A POWER THAT I WAS CONSIDERING LEAVING MY BOROUGH IN NO BETTER CONDITION THAT I FOUND IT IN.

NOELLE, THANK YOU FOR JOINING US ON THE SHOW.

THANKS FOR HAVING ME.

WE CAN'T WAIT TO SEE THE LIT BAR OPEN.

THANK YOU.

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO HEAR MORE ABOUT NOELLE'S LOVE OF LITERATURE AND PARTICULARLY HER FAVORITE CHILDHOOD BROOK, A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN.

YOU CAN SEE HER SEGMENT ON THE GREAT AMERICAN READ THIS SEPTEMBER 18th ON YOUR LOCAL PBS STATION.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Irene Schwartz, Rosalind P. Walter, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Janet Prindle Seidler, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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